Denver Key was born in 1940 in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1959, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on June 5, 1963. ENS Key completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in September 1964, and then served as an S-2D Tracker pilot with VS-26 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, and aboard the aircraft carrier USS Randolf (CVS-15) from January 1965 to May 1966. LT Key next transitioned to the A-4 Skyhawk before serving with VA-34 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, from September 1966 to May 1967, and then deployed to Southeast Asia aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CV-11) from May 1967 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on November 17, 1967. After spending 1,945 days in captivity, LCDR Key was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries, and then served as an A-4 pilot with VA-45 at NAS Cecil Field from June 1973 to May 1974, followed by Postgraduate School to complete his Masters Degree in Physics at the University of North Carolina from June 1974 to May 1977. CDR Key served as a Physics Instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy from June 1977 to June 1979, and then served as a Missile Projects Officer with Naval Material Command in Washington, D.C., from June 1979 to June 1981. His next assignment was as a Production Management Branch Officer with Naval Air Systems Command, also in Washington, D.C., from June 1981 to June 1984, followed by service as Commanding Officer of the Naval Plant Representative Office at LTV Corporation in Dallas, Texas, from June 1984 to June 1986. Capt Key served as Aerial Targets Program Manager and then Director of Research and Technology with Naval Air Systems Command in Washington, D.C., from June 1986 to June 1990, and then as Director of Math and Science and Commodore of the Sailing Squadron at the U.S. Naval Academy from June 1990 until his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1993. After retiring from the Navy, Denver taught physics and astronomy at St. Johns River Community College in Orange Park, Florida.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. On 22 November 1967, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.